Can You See NYC in a Day?

I’ve met so many people lately who have never been to New York City. They want to, but can’t imagine how they’d even begin to figure out what to see and do there.

As I started planning my trip, I wondered where I should start, too, since this would be my daughter’s first trip to the city. I was fortunate to live in New Jersey for years, so took the train into the city any time I wanted. But my daughter and I would only have five days. Where to start??

Then I discovered Experience First’s “New York City in a Day” tour. That made it a no brainer

Times Square

Our 6-hour tour began at Times Square. It’s a fun, festive place to be with all the bright billboards on the sides of the buildings. It’s actually a requirement of them, we learned. Some of the newer buildings going up put the digital billboards on first because they bring in more revenue than any tenants inside. In fact, some of the buildings are empty!

Times Square – always busy and colorful

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

From there we wandered to the Diamond District and then on to see St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Our tour guide gave us a few minutes to go inside. Though it’s not as ornate as many of the cathedrals I’ve seen in Europe, it was magnificent all the same, though seemingly out of place in the middle of a bustling city.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Empire State Building

It’s easy to get a glimpse of the Empire State Building from many spots in Manhattan. We could see it several blocks away from St. Patrick’s, but my daughter and I ventured closer. It’s such an iconic attraction. We couldn’t resist.

It’s even prettier at night.

Grand Central Station

We stopped inside Grand Central Station where our guide pointed out some really unique features we’d probably never have noticed without his insider knowledge. One was the whisper alcove where two people can stand at opposite corners of the small rotunda and hear each other clearly because of the acoustics. If you’re traveling there with children, definitely try it.

Another feature he pointed out was the hand-carved opal clock faces resting atop the Information desk. absolutely beautiful once you realize what they are. And the Tiffany glass clock on the exterior, which is 11 feet in diameter.

Beautiful architecture and ornate features that you’d miss if you didn’t know what to look for.

But the real masterpiece is the painted ceiling that depicts several constellations. For some reason, it is meant to show how the stars would be aligned on a Spring day in the Mediterranean, but there’s a problem with it… I’m not going to give away that secret. You have to take the tour. 😉

This fresco was almost hidden by dirt for many years.

While we were at Grand Central Station, we took the subway downtown, so this tour was a great introduction for anyone who hasn’t taken the NY subway before.

Wall Street

Interesting perspectives about Wall Street from our native New Yorker tour guide. During COVID, the traders at the New York Stock Exchange basically worked from home like so many others in the world, which leads one to wonder whether they will come back to work from New York’s Financial District? Many of the offices have already moved to other boroughs, so time will tell Wall Street becomes the financial center it once was.

More interesting is why Wall Street was called Wall Street in the first place. Can you guess?

It’s because there was once a wall that the Dutch built to block the British from entering the city through the harbor. Apparently, it wasn’t much of a wall; it didn’t actually keep the British out. In fact, the British came in and claimed this building from them. This is where George Washington took the oath as President of the United States in what was (at the time) our nation’s capital.

Formerly Federal Hall, this is now a Women’s History Museum.

Staten Island Ferry

After eating lunch on our own along Stone Street, we walked down and boarded the Staten Island Ferry. Again, our tour guide had some insider knowledge about the best place to stand as we sailed past the Statue of Liberty.

We also got a history lesson on New York Harbor’s history and Staten Island’s flagging attempts to draw people to it, rather than to just take the ferry past the Statue of Liberty and then reverse route like so many people do. They haven’t figured it out yet.

9/11 Memorial

The last stop on our trip was the 9/11 Memorial. It was a sobering reminder of that tragic day. Looking at the spaces where the buildings once stood and staring into an empty space where they collapsed was brutal. The Israeli man who designed it created something beautiful but somber. The ledge around the edge has each person’s name engraved. If it’s someone’s birthday, they put a white rose there to honor them. Friends and family often come and leave something to mark their loved one’s name, but those items are removed each night.

May we never forget.

As you stand close to the memorial, you can hear the white noise of the waterfalls rushing down into the empty space, and then into the deeper well that denotes the depth of the loss that we experienced that day. It moved us to tears. It’s a day I’ll never forget anyway, but to stand in the place where it happened makes it even more powerful.

New York in a Day

So, did we see New York in a day??

Yes, quite a bit. There were so many other buildings and statues and stories that our guide shared with us throughout the day that I definitely felt as though I’d seen several days’ worth of sights. We walked — a LOT. In fact, by the end of the tour my Fitbit showed 5 miles of steps. My legs were worn out, but we had several opportunities to sit for a bit along the way.

We saw New York in a day; in fact, from the ferry we saw a couple more boroughs than just Manhattan! You can’t beat that. At least, not in one day.

Left to right: New Jersey, Manhattan, Brooklyn. Staten Island was behind us at this point.

Do comprehensive tours like this appeal to you?

*Special thanks to Experience First for hosting us on this tour. We loved it!


10 responses to “Can You See NYC in a Day?

  1. Hi. You saw a lot. But NYC is vast and endlessly interesting. Your tour was better than nothing. But to truly get a feel for NYC, a person needs to spend at least four days there. The same is true, in my opinion, for any large city. Take care.

  2. Wow, you accomplished all that in 6 hours? What a feat! Yes. You saw NYC I’m a day. I’ve been there 2x but haven’t been back to see the 9/11 memorial.

  3. Depending on the circumstances, tours like this can be great. I’ve done a couple of them myself. I wouldn’t call them “comprehensive,” but more of an overview or “quick summary.” Which is perfect if you have limited time!

    Gah, even thinking about the 9/11 memorial brings me to tears. I haven’t yet visited it. I do wonder, though, if it’s already something of an “ancient” “novelty” for young people (such as those born after 2001). Just like many historically significant buildings from, say, the 1800s or earlier 1900s would be for us.

    • You’re right, Kristan: a quick overview is a better description. It gave us an opportunity to choose what we wanted to see more of and the 9/11 Memorial is one of the things that we decided needed more time.

      My daughter, who was born in 2000, does not remember the events of that day, but has seen the terrorist attacks on the buildings many, many times. She cried. It was hard not to. The memorial site is so solemn, and deeply moving. I felt like I should read every name. I didn’t, but I will certainly never forget how the world felt on that tragic day.

  4. It’s hard to imagine being able to cram so much into such a short timeframe. You certainly treated yourself to the cream of the crop during your one-day itinerary.

  5. Like one or two of your commenters I commend the ‘overview’ of any visitor destination as a prelude to a deeper dive when one has time. In NYC I’d make a beeline for Grand Central.

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